Foods that Help or Hinder Sleep
Fuel affects the machine. As one of nature’s most efficient machines, the human body needs foods that fuel its basic biological functions, including sleep. Sleep-supportive eating gives the body the nutrients it needs to fuel the chemical processes that control and stabilize the sleep cycle. Eating them consistently and at the right times can be a natural sleep aid whether you struggle with sleep or not.
Milk, Yogurt, and Other Dairy Products
A warm cup of milk is more than an old wives’ tale. Milk, yogurt, and other dairy products are loaded with two essential nutrients—tryptophan and calcium. Tryptophan, made famous by many a Thanksgiving Dinner, is an amino acid that’s eventually used to make a key sleep hormone called melatonin. It’s first turned into niacin then serotonin, which helps you feel relaxed, and, finally, melatonin, which makes you feel sleepy.
However, to get through this complex chemical process, the brain needs calcium. It aids tryptophan through the transition into melatonin. Consequently, low calcium levels are often found in people who have a hard time staying asleep. Dairy products contain both tryptophan and calcium, making them an excellent evening or late-night snack.
Lentils aid sleep by flooding the body with magnesium. The body’s parasympathetic nervous system uses magnesium to relax. It also plays a role in the stabilization of melatonin production. A calm, relaxed body filled with melatonin is one that’s fully prepared for sleep.
Bananas, like dairy products, are a superfood. They’re high in magnesium, potassium, and tryptophan. We’ve already covered the roles of magnesium and tryptophan but potassium is new to our list.
Potassium helps regulate your muscles, including the heart muscles. Too little potassium can lead to heart palpitations, dizziness, and lightheadedness while too much can cause rapid fluttering of the heart’s lower chambers. Potassium also relaxes muscles and prevents nighttime muscle cramps and spasms.
Tart Cherry Juice
Many of the foods on our list have nutrients that are ultimately used to make melatonin. Tart cherry juice is one of the few that naturally contains melatonin. This powerful fruit juice can extend sleep times by over an hour. That’s definitely worth adding to the menu.
Garbanzo Beans or Chickpeas
Garbanzo beans, the main ingredient in hummus, contains tryptophan, vitamin B6, and folate. We all love tryptophan, but it’s the vitamin B6 and folate we want to focus on here. Vitamin B6 aids the process of changing tryptophan into niacin and later into serotonin.
Folate’s relationship to sleep isn’t quite as clear, but low folate levels are often found in those who suffer from insomnia. A delicious hummus dip and crackers before bed make an excellent, and healthy, pre-bed snack loaded with essential sleep nutrients.
What’s not to love about peanut butter? Creamy or crunchy, it’s a delicious way to nab some protein. It’s also another great source of tryptophan.
Carbs, in General
We’re not pointing to a specific food when it comes to carbohydrates, but carb-rich meals have been shown to shorten the time it takes to fall asleep while decreasing night wakings.
Carbs enter the bloodstream, causing the pancreas to release insulin. Insulin then clears the blood of amino acids except for one—tryptophan. With the other amino acids out of the picture, tryptophan gets the center stage to enter the brain and start the process that eventually leads to the production of melatonin. Consequently, plenty of healthy carbs at night prepares your body to begin the sleep cycle.
However, try to keep your nighttime carbs nutrient-dense. High-fat, sugary foods may be high in carbs, but they also bring extra calories and sometimes heartburn and indigestion.
Healthy Diet Supports Good Sleep Habits
A diet rich in sleep-inducing foods should be supported by strong sleep habits. All of your personal habits and behaviors can be tailored to further help your body get the rest it needs. Here are our best tips to increase your chances of getting a full night’s rest.
- Environmental Factors: A bedroom devoted solely to sleep helps the brain recognize when to begin the sleep cycle. The body needs a mattress that’s designed to accommodate body weight and sleep style as well as a cool, dark environment that’s distraction-free (that often means moving electronics to another room).
- Predictable Bedtime: The human body needs routine to help it correctly time any behaviors or processes, like sleep, that take place regularly within a 24-hour cycle. A predictable bedtime allows the brain to anticipate your schedule and correctly time the sleep cycle.
- Consistent Meal Timing: Meal timing also plays a role in creating a predictable pattern of behavior. Meals that take place around the same time and are evenly spaced throughout the day allow the body to anticipate the onset of sleep.
- Early, Light Dinner: Dinner sets the stage for sleep. To keep indigestion and heartburn out of the picture, eat early and keep it light.
The food you eat and when you eat it can all support and strengthen your sleep. You can start improving the quality of your sleep from the moment you wake up in the morning. Be sure your meals and snacks are balanced with sleep-supportive foods, add consistency to your routine, and you’re set for deep, restful sleep.